What’s in a name? Or rather what’s in a title to a name?

A 10 year old boy in North Carolina recently got punished by his teacher for calling her “ma’am”. She made him write out the word, “ma’am” 4 times per line on a long sheet of paper. This story went viral. Seems some people are sensitive about how they get addressed.

A lawyer colleague and I chatted the other day about addressing people and she told me she was dealing with an ATM machine and it referred to her by her first name. She did not like it. She said she would have preferred to be referred to as “Mrs. X”. (her real name actually, of course).

I thought about it and it occurred to me that I have no problem with a kind and generous machine saying to me, “Hey, here’s $500.00 Marcel.”

I actually was uneasy for decades, with anyone calling me Mr. Strigberger. To me Mr. Strigberger was my dad. After all he always wore a fedora, That was what fathers did and therefore you called them “Mr. “

We went on to chat at length about names and references and she also said she did not like it when other lawyers referred to her at a legal proceeding using the traditional British reference barristers call one another, namely, “my friend”. She was sure her clients would raise an eyebrow and think to themselves, “Why is my lawyer so chummy with the enemy? Maybe I had better not drink that coffee she just brought me.”

I told her I could live with “my friend” but I would never stretch that one to that alternate phrase being, “my learned friend.” After 40+ years of practice, I was certain some of the lawyers I came across received their legal learning at the University of Attila the Hun.

I told her my pet peeve was calling judges “Your Honour”. They don’t always deserve such a distinguished salutation. I especially found it unnatural to lose an argument in court and have the judge order my client to pay legal costs, and then conclude my brilliant presentation by uttering the words, “Thank you Your Honour.” It’s almost like getting mugged on the street and then as you get up and you brush yourself off you say, “Thank you Mr. Mugger. “(unless I suppose you know his first name).

Actually in court I was often tempted to follow the lead of that famous literary creation barrister, Rumpole of the Old Baily, who would often mumble some derogatory remark under his breath at the judge, such as, “You are a total ass,” which the judge sort of heard but could not confirm. The judge would ask, “What was that you said Mr. Rumpole?” Rumpole would respond something like, “My Lord, I said it will pass.”

We all know His Lordship heard it right but could not do anything about it.

The British certainly appear to have a hold on pomposity. My daughter once communicated with a university in England and the university’s first letter asked how she was to be addressed, listing a string of titles including Miss, Mrs. , Ms and Lady. She of course responded, “Lady”. And that is in fact how they responded to her.

My colleague and I concluded that we all had our likes and dislikes on how we wished to be called. After discussing this issue in depth and parting our separate ways, it occurred to me that I never got to ask her how she would react if she were called, “ma’am.”

As for myself, I’m easy going and not pretentious. I can live with whatever the person who deals with me wishes to call me.

That’s just who I am; Sir Marcel Strigberger

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